Senators confirmed today what many have suspected all along. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s May 9th memo, in which he recommended that the President fire James Comey, was just a charade and a thinly veiled attempt to provide political cover for President Trump’s controversial sacking of the FBI Director.
Rosenstein is leading the Justice Department on all things related to investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia after his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had to recuse himself because of his own undisclosed meetings with Russian officials.
In a closed door meeting with Senators, Rosenstein briefed them on the sequence of events that led up to Comey’s firing. Senators asked for the briefing because the White House’s story for why the President fired Comey changed at least three different times.
First they advanced the narrative that Rosenstein – the newly minted Deputy Attorney General confirmed with broad bipartisan support in the Senate – conducted a review of Justice Department personnel, including Director Comey. After that review, Rosenstein concluded that Comey had mishandled, among other things, the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server and, because of that, he needed to be fired.
He then submitted a memo to his boss, Jeff Sessions, who passed it on to President Trump with a note of his own that supported Rosenstein’s findings and conclusion. The White House claimed that Trump, with an open mind and free from prejudice, read the memo and was so moved by the findings that he reversed course and reluctantly decided to accept the Department of Justice’s recommendation to fire Director Comey.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer added substance to that narrative the night of the firing, telling reporters, “It was all him [Rosenstein]. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” Vice President Pence put a bow on the story the next morning, stating flatly to reporters that the President decided, “to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey.”
That narrative quickly fell apart, and at the mid-day White House press conference, the story had already changed. Now the administration was arguing that the President’s concerns about the FBI Director’s job performance had been mounting for months. He was unhappy about Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee a week earlier, and reading the Rosenstein memo was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
That story held for about a day, until the President himself blew it up. He revealed to Lester Holt on NBC that he was going to fire Director Comey regardless of the Rosenstein memo. “Oh, I was gonna fire regardless of recommendations,” he told Holt.
With the White House’s credibility in shambles thanks to the President’s torpedo on NBC, the only question that remained was whether Assistant AG Rosenstein knew he was on a fool’s errand or not. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) emerged from the meeting and set the record straight:
Sen. Claire McCaskill says deputy AG Rod Rosenstein knew Comey was going to be removed prior to writing his memo https://t.co/MLpvjELZvE
— CNN (@CNN) May 18, 2017
While this clears-up the last mystery surrounding the timeline of Comey’s firing, it doesn’t address the President’s motives, or his attempts to influence the investigation before firing Comey. It also raises new questions about why the President allowed his staff, including the Vice President, to advance our right lies in the press, which their original storyline clearly was.
Lastly, today’s revelation raises a red flag about Assistant AG Rosenstein’s credibility. That he would knowingly participate in the White House’s attempt to manufacture a false timeline post-facto, and then advance that as its reason for what under the best of circumstances was a highly controversial firing, should trouble anyone hoping we can get to the bottom of the President’s links to Russia.
Peter Mellado is a writer, producer, and a branding and messaging specialist with over 15 years experience. He studied history at San Jose State University, and resides in Los Angeles.